When the calendar flipped to 2015, I found myself looking in the rearview with a sour taste in my mouth. Wrinkle between my eyes. I can not tell you that 2014 was a good year. It was not. Honestly, I was glad to see it go. For reasons I won't share, I shed more tears in 2014 than in the last several years combined. Real tears. Not just sad emotions but water dripping off my face mixed with white-knuckled fists. I knew sadness, heartache, anger unlike any I'd known in a long time and had to actively confront my own unforgiveness on more than a dozen occasions. If I didn't the bitterness would have eaten me alive. The problem was not in my house. Christy loves me. I love her. My kids love me. I love them. We are good. But there were circumstances and events outside of our control -- from more than one source -- that brought very real heartache and pain to our door. And it wasn't just one-and-done. It was constant. Over months. We were lied to, deceived, and by our perception, betrayed. Deeply.
NOTE: This 'piece' is not short. It doesn't fit neatly in our Twitter-culture where we consume pithy sound bites with the attention span of squirrels. I've not written this for your entertainment. I wrote it to show a process -- in me. One that was painful, not necessarily linear, didn't always make sense and took some time to play out. If you don't want to read to the end, here's the nugget -- I am a wretched, black-hearted sinner dealing with shrapnel of the heart. And there's only one way to get rid of stuff like this -- it has to be cut out but in order to get to it, you have to peel away the dead stuff and shine a light in a dark place. This 'piece' is me turning on the light in a closet I'd rather keep shut.
Early in January, arms crossed, huddled over this stone in my belly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. What follows is as close as I can get to the transcription of that conversation. A conversation between The Lord and me. And, as best I can remember, He started it:
"You going to give me that?"
"Give you what?"
He said nothing. He just poked at the raw wound in me that had started to scab over.
When he pushed on it, puss oozed out. And it stunk. Lying to Him would get me nowhere. I didn't feel like talking. "That hurts."
His response was calm. Almost amused. "I see that."
Doubled over, I winced and caught my breath. "Well why don't You do something about it!?"
I was not in a good place. "Does that include impaling our enemies' heads on stakes outside the city walls?"
A pause. "You finished?"
I shook my head. "Not really."
He was quiet. Content to let me vent.
”Can't you see what's going on here? You healed the blind but seem blind to us.”
His voice was closer. "Look up."
I was standing outside so I did.
He asked, "Did you do that?"
"Well, for the sake of argument, will you concede that my view of you is slightly different than yours?"
"That does little to ease my pain."
I shook my head. No answer.
"Do you trust me?"
In four words He'd gotten to the nugget. "I did."
"And it didn't pan out the way you thought it should did it?"
I shook my head.
"Do you trust me now?" I was about to open my mouth and ask Him what had changed when He said, "Think before you answer."
This was no small question He was asking. Several months prior, Christy and the boys and I found ourselves in our car, parked in the Tractor supply parking lot. We'd just exited the breakfast drive-thru and and I was so angry and hurt that I knew better than to try and drive the car. Knew I'd better press 'pause.' Sip my coffee and take a deep breath. I was either going to remove someone's head from their shoulders and drive a stake through their collective chest, or I was going to yield and find a way to love someone(s) I had good reason to hate. And I wasn't the only one. As I looked in the rearview at my kids spread about the car, we all hurt. Pain was pasted across their faces. Every one of us was dinged and bruised and carried the scars of months of unrelenting ache. And, listen, I'm not sitting here in the comfort of my office writing about theoretical pain. About someone else's pain. These are my wife and children. This is us I'm talking about. I sat in that car sweating, mind racing, barely holding it together.
In the months prior, I'd been on my knees. Been praying The Word. Been proclaiming it over my family. Been 'holding fast the confession of my faith -- without wavering.' I knew then and know now what The Lord says about vengeance and, despite that, I was on the verge of assisting Him in carrying it out.
I also knew what He'd said about forgiveness and I wanted nothing to do with it.
My mind was firing a thousand thoughts a second but below all that, below my anger, I knew we needed to pray. I knew if I kept that stuff bottled up in me, that it'd eat me alive and that my doing so would open up doors in my children that would require a long time to close. I also knew I could not defend me and I could not defend them. I was, and still am, absolutely powerless to effect any change in a real crappy situation.
So, I slid my hand beneath Christy's, opened up my mouth and squeaked out one word, "Lord." That was it. That was all I could manage. I stood on the precipice. I was either going to erupt and scream a string of four-letter epithets followed by a course of action that included the infliction of pain or I was going to be reduced to a puddle in the front seat. Probably a puddle because option A got me nowhere. And I don't mind Christy and the kids seeing me cry, that's not the point, they have on several occasions, but I did not want them to see me react in anger. I didn't want to drill those seeds of anger into my kids' hearts. We'd already lost enough. That reaction was not and is not the heart of Jesus. Life was foggy, the walls were pressing in, but I knew enough to know that.
Let's leave that car a minute. Back to the driveway where the Lord had picked at the same scab. Weeks had passed from that front seat to this conversation and nothing had changed. If anything, conditions had worsened. I was raw. So, I side-stepped the question.
"Could we please talk about something else?"
He did not sound impressed. "We were talking about Trust."
I spoke softly. "Trusting you with this is...difficult."
"Your emotions are lying to you."
I knew He was right. I was too tired to argue.
He sat next to me. "Do you know what it means to 'hope against hope?'"
I knew this phrase had been used to describe Abraham and the whole Isaac situation. "I think it means to hope even when you have none and no reason to."
He nodded. "Why do you think Abraham did that?"
"He did it because 'I speak that which is not as though it is.'" (Rom 4:17)
"I'm not sure I can wrap my head around that."
"It means I'm not limited by what you can see."
In the days and weeks and months prior to the Tractor Supply parking lot fiasco, I had searched The Word for the remedy. Anything. Any nugget to hold onto that spoke of our healing, deliverance and redemption. I did find scriptures of blessing and prosperity. Of The Lord's deliverance. Yes, absolutely. Memorized them. And yes, God does desire our blessing. He promises it. Look at Psalm 1 - "whatever he does prospers." The Lord wants to open the floodgates and pour "exceedingly abundant" blessings into your and my lap. He delights in it. Loves to give good gifts to His children. Oh what great love the Father has lavished on us. And His will toward us is good. His promises are 'yes' and 'Amen.' But, as I unpacked The Word, what impressed me was not God's desire for our blessing, but our promised affliction. Our promised tribulation. Promised suffering. The testing of our faith. What I learned in those umpteen hours or study and crying out is that a gospel of Jesus Christ that includes blessing without suffering is a false gospel. It's a lie and those who propagate it are not helping things. I knew Jesus learned obedience through suffering and that did not bode well for me. So, as this conversation rolled out, I knew what was coming. And I was not looking forward to it.
He sat next to me. Shoulder to shoulder. "Did I test Abraham?" (Gen 22:1)
I knew that after a 25-year wait and then 13 years of living with his only son, Isaac, God told Abraham to kill him. The son of his love. God told him to slit his throat and let the blood drain down across the altar. Then, God let him travel 3 days and let it sink in while Isaac played along the path. My voice cracked. "Yes."
"Did I deliver my people Israel out of Egypt?"
I nodded but didn't look up.
"And did they cross the Red Sea on dry ground?"
Through miracles and wonders, the likes of which the World had never seen, the nation of Israel was delivered from the horrors of Egypt. From 400 years of slavery and bondage. Walked out of Egypt carrying Egyptian gold. Straight into a desert. Three days later, they were parched. Thirsty. Children screaming. No water in sight. Then they came upon this well. And the water was bitter. Bad. Couldn't drink it. (Ex 15:22-25) "Yes, but why did you lead them to a well that no one could drink?"
"I was transforming a nation of slaves into a kingdom of priests."
"I was teaching them to trust Me." (Ex 19:6)
"Sort of backfired on You, didn't it."
"A million people grumbled and one man prayed."
He looked at me out of the corner of His eye. "A familiar reaction." A pause. "You remember what I used to heal the water?"
"A tree." (Ex 15:25)
He smiled and let that sink in.
I made the connection. "You know, they also make Louisville Sluggers out of trees."
He laughed then rerouted us. "Did I choose and anoint Saul as King?" (1 Sam 10)
"And when he departed from me, did I send a distressing spirit to him? To afflict him?" (1 Sam 16:14)
"To make room for David."
"And what was Job doing when Satan came and asked me for his life?"
I was afraid to answer. He picked up on it. "Go ahead, you can say it."
"Looked to me like he was minding his own business."
"You're right. He was. And, was any man more righteous than Job?"
"No. He woke every morning and made sacrifice for his family." (Job 1:5)
"You remember what he told his wife when she told him to curse me?"
The picture of Job appeared on the backs of my eyelids. He was covered in puss and boils. Family dead. Fortunes gone. Scraping his skin with a potsherd. "Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips." (Job 2:10)
"Do you see that I gave Satan permission to inflict harm upon an obedient, righteous man?"
I swallowed. "Yes."
"What'd Jeremiah say about Me?"
"You 'test the righteous.'" (Jeremiah 20:12)
"Tell me about Joseph."
"He was a dreamer, literally. Also, minding his own business. His older brothers got tired of his mouth so they sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites and faked his death to their father. David describes it this way in the Psalms,"Moreover He (You) called for a famine in the land; He (You) destroyed all the provision of bread. He (You) sent a man before them- Joseph-who was sold as a slave. They hurt his feet with fetters, He was laid in irons. Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the LORD tested him." (Ps 105:16-19)
"How long was he like that?"
"Can you see the bronze wrapped around his ankles?"
It didn't take long for the picture to appear. "Yes."
"Don't you think I could have released him from prison earlier?"
"And yet, I didn't."
I shook my head in agreement.
"What did Paul tell the Romans?"
"...We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation (the testing of our faith) produces perseverance." (Romans 5:3-5)
"When was the last time you 'gloried in your tribulation?'"
"What'd he tell the Corinthians?"
"We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed-" (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
"He told him to mix some wine with his water."
I continued, "...share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God..." (2 Timothy 1:8)
Knowing there was more, he waited.
"Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.'" (2 Timothy 2:3)
"...All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12) I scratched my head. "When do we get to the part where You, the God of Angel Armies, the God of battle axe and spear, send a lightning bolt to someone's you-know-whats?"
I could hear pages flipping, being turned. He said, "I want to read you something out of Hebrews."
"While we're on the subject, who wrote Hebrews?"
He smiled "'...Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented- of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth." (Hebrews 11:32-38) I could hear him scratching His beard. "Have you been stoned?"
"Sawn in two?"
I heard more pages flipping. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18)
"I'm a long way from that perspective right now."
The pages flipped. "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up." (1 Corinthians 13:4)
"That one, too."
"For to you it has been granted on behalf of Me, not only to believe in Me, but also to suffer for My sake." (Philippians 1:29)
This was a hard word. My eyes were watering.
He thumbed away the tear. "You okay?"
"I have a speck."
"Did Paul desire to 'know Me and the power of My resurrection, and the fellowship of My sufferings, being conformed to My death?" (Philippians 3:10)
He tapped Himself in the chest, "Let's turn the lens on me a minute?"
I knew this, too, would be painful. I waited.
"Did My Father bruise me?" (Is 53:10)
"Crush me?" (Is 53:10)
"Put me to grief?" (Is 53:10)
"Did my Father do to me what He spared Abraham?"
"Did I not taste death for everyone. Was I, the Captain of your salvation, made perfect through suffering? Was I tempted so that I might aid those who are tempted?" (Hebrews 2:9-10,18)
I knew the verse. "Though You were a Son, You learned obedience by the things which You suffered." (Hebrews 5:8)
"Charles, if I learned obedience through suffering, what's that say about you?"
"It says my goose is cooked."
"And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved." (Matthew 10:22)
"That one's always troubled me."
"Did I say anything in there about rescuing you in the midst of your stuff?"
"What two words catch your eyes?"
"'Hate' and 'endure.'"
"Did I tell my disciples, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.' And whoever doesn't, is not worthy of me." (Mt 16:24, 10:38)
He prodded me. "Is My Word true?"
"It is life to those who find it and health to one's whole flesh." (Proverbs 4:20)
"Is my word true?"
"I have considered the words of Your mouth more valuable than my necessary food." (Job 23:12)
"Your words were found by me and I ate them and they became my delight." (Jeremiah 15:16)
"Don't stop now."
"Lord, Your word is like a fire, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces." (Jer 23:29)
"Lord, I have hidden Your word in my heart so that I might not sin against You." (Ps 119:11)
He paused, leaned in and smiled. "Maybe you should bury it deeper."
I held up two stop sign hands. "I know I'm being little, I realize my reaction is petty, I am tripping over my bottom lip, ripe with bitterness but I am in pain."
He continued, "I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." (Philippians 4:12)
"I'm not there yet."
"Do you thank me, with all sincerity, for the times that you are full? When you are abounding?"
He chuckled. "I'd prefer that."
"Cause I'm spoiled. I think I'm entitled."
He nodded in agreement.
"Okay...that's my bad."
This time I didn't hear the pages flipping which meant he was speaking it the same way He spoke it to Paul. "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body..." (Colossians 1:24)
I laughed out loud.
"'Rejoicing in sufferings?' Seriously? When do I get to murmur and complain? 'Filling up my flesh in the afflictions of Christ...?'" I shook my head. "That's like Special Forces Christianity."
"Yes, it is and it's coming from my son Paul who's been there, done that and got the t-shirt to prove it. His rejoicing and filling up honored me."
I scratched my head and offered no response.
He continued. "...We told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know." (1 Thessalonians 3:4)
"Yes you did that."
"And you didn't believe me did you?"
"It's not so much that I didn't believe You as I skipped over that one."
"So, you're scripture picking."
"But, I thought you told Christy and your boys and all those guys in your Bible study that you don't get to do that. I think you used the words, 'accepting the whole counsel of God.'"
He was right. I had. "Lord, I know I'm a hyprocrite. The evidence speaks for itself. I'm guilty. My righteousness is as filthy rags." (Isaiah 64:6)
"Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12)
"I ignored that one, too."
"Do you desire to live Godly in me?"
"Not all the time?"
"Not when it hurts like this."
"Did Moses 'choose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming My reproach of greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he [Moses] looked to the reward?" (Hebrews 11:25-26)
"Okay, Lord, seriously. We're talking about Moses."
"Don't 'seriously' me. 'Nothing has tempted you except what is common to man. I will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape, so that you will be able to endure it.'" (1 Cor 10:13)
I rubbed my eyes. "You're killing me Smalls."
He laughed. "So now your quoting movies?"
"Sorry. That's probably irreverent. But I'm still putting Moses on a pedestal. He spoke with you face-to-face?"
A pause. "What's this?"
"We're having this conversation in my mind. I'm not looking at your face and hearing your voice. I'm hearing my voice of your voice."
"Read My word and you'll see My face."
"I'm learning that."
"Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms." (James 5:13)
More laughter. "Psalms? Are you kidding me? How about, 'Lock and Load! Fire in the hole. Incoming!???'"
"For to this you were called, because I also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow My steps: But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed...And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled...For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Therefore, since I suffered for you in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify Me in this matter. But may I -- the God of all Grace, who called you to My eternal glory, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you." (1 Peter 2:21; 1 Peter 3:14,17; 1 Peter 4:1; 1 Peter 4:16; 1 Peter 5:10)
"I don't think I can take any more of this."
He sat back, "Okay -- in the infamous words of Inigo Montoya, 'let me sum up.'"
"Did you just quote 'The Princess Bride'?"
"Charles, I do have a sense of humor. I invented it."
"Okay, I'll give you that."
"Remember when Paul said, --"
I knew where He was going. I held up a stop-sign hand. "Please don't quote that one. It makes me nauseas every time I hear it."
That had no effect. He continued, "From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness...If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity."
"I think I'm going to throw up."
"Do you think for one second that I wasn't standing there every time that rod tore the skin off his back?" (2 Corinthians 11:23-30)
"I'm trying not to think about it."
"Think about this -- my friend, Peter, was crucified upside down. My brother James was stoned. 11 of my 12 Apostles were killed. Some were burned at the stake. Some were skinned alive. Stephen, was stoned. Paul was beheaded in a Roman prison."
I raised a finger to protest. "I'd like to keep my head where it is."
He tapped Himself in the chest. "I was betrayed by one of my friends, whipped with a Roman scourge while my best friends watched. I was rendered 'unrecognizable as a man,' then crucified while those around me mocked me and spat on me and drove a spear through my chest."
My ears hurt. I hung my head in my hands, pressing out the tears.
He spoke over me. "When do you think Joseph understood my purposes?"
I wiped my nose on my shirt sleeve. "About the time his brothers walked in asking for grain."
"So what do you think that process required of him?"
I knew the answer. I just didn't want to speak it.
He prodded. "Go ahead."
He opened my Bible. The words in red popped off the page. "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) He pointed to the word, "tribulation." You See that?"
"The Greek is 'thlipsis.' It means, 'pressure, oppression, stress, anguish, tribulation, adversity, affliction, crushing, squashing, squeezing, distress.' It paints a picture of this -- Imagine placing your hand on a stack of loose items and manually compressing them. That is thlipsis. Putting a lot of pressure on that which was once free and unfettered. Thlipsis is like spiritual bench-pressing. The word is used of crushing grapes or olives in a press." He paused. I knew it before He asked it. He leaned in closer.
"Where was I arrested?"
"In the garden -- where they pressed the olives."
"You starting to get the picture?"
"Yes." I exhaled deeply and spoke slowly. It wasn't so much a defense as a venting. "Okay, I get it. In this life, I will suffer. I got it. You've proven your point. So, can the suffering end? Because right now I am still in pain!"
When I looked down we were in Psalms. His fingers pointed at the words as He read. His hands were calloused. Weathered. Both fisherman and carpenter. But it was the hole that caught my attention. "I sought the LORD, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears. This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles. The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all." (34:4,6,17,19) I was about to offer an objection as to how He had not done that for us, when He pointed again. "You see that word 'all.'" He looked at me, nodding. "It means just that. 'All.'" He turned the page. "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." (Romans 8:17-18)
"I'm ready for the glory."
Another turn of the page. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter."  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:28,31,35-39) He whispered. "See that, 'sheep for the slaughter?'"
That had always been one of my favorites. He knew this. I nodded.
"Charles, when I say 'I feel your pain,' I'm not kidding. I'm The Lamb who was slain."
Tears streamed down my face.
I flipped over to Rom 16:20 -- "And the God of Peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly." I tapped the words, waiting. "What about this one? What about a good ol' fashioned butt --"
He flipped me back to 1 Peter. "Like Peter, I am refining your faith. By fire. To do that, I have to burn some stuff away. It can be painful but it makes the gold more pure. The higher the heat, the more pure the gold." (1:6-9)
"And the greater the pain," I quipped.
He nodded knowingly.
I turned slowly back to the Old Testament where Job was in the midst of his trial and still had 23 chapters of suffering to go before his life is made right. My fingers touched the words. "...I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God..." My finger landed on the words, "My Redeemer lives." (Job 19:25-26) I leaned into Him. I said "Lord, I know I'm a mess right now but I really do want to be like this. In the midst of all this, I want to declare across the darkness that wants to blanket me that You live and that I will see You."
"You will. You are."
Words wouldn't come so I flipped to the end of Job and just tapped the words on the page. "I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You....I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:2,5-6)
He whispered in my ear. "Take a look around."
"You see where you are? This place?"
"It's right where I want you."
"You did this on purpose?"
"I allowed it."
"That's difficult for me."
"And You want me to trust you?"
"You're not making it any easier."
"I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Deut 31:6)
"It doesn't feel like it sometimes."
"Are you going to listen to your feelings or Me?"
"Lord, I feel like my stomach has been sliced open, my guts have spilled out on the ground and people are stomping on my insides."
"I'm close to the broken-hearted. And near to those who are crushed in spirit." (Ps 34:18)
I tried to say something untrue and He cut me off. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous. But I, the Lord, deliver him, i.e., you, out of them all." (Ps 34:19)
"But what about the feel-good, prosperity gospel? Media is full of Bible-thumpers talking about my prosperity and how I can make my life better."
"Not all of them know me."
"Granted, but don't you want us to prosper? I mean, Lord, we are getting our lunch handed to us down here."
"Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither;And whatever he does shall prosper." (Psalm 1:1-3)
I pounded the pages, "Exactly! Whatever he does..."
He interrupted me. "What does that word 'prosper' mean?"
"Well, I would imagine it is the opposite of me right now."
"Look it up."
I started flipping through the books on my shelf. While I did this I could hear Him muttering over my shoulder, "Buy you books, send you to school and all you do is chew on the covers."
"My dad used to say that to me."
"Where you think he got it?"
I found the definition. 'To prosper' is like a military commander returning from a battle campaign, having successfully accomplished his orders."
"During that campaign, he probably slept on the ground, fought and lost, suffered wounding, knew temporary defeat, but afterward, when he came to the end of his campaign, he returned to his commander, complete with scars and a limp, having accomplished his orders.
"Charles, that's prosperity. To accomplish your orders. Blessing flows out of that. Out of hearing and obeying My voice. Period. You align yourself with My Word, My orders. Don't twist it and make it fit your circumstances. Or only run to it when you've made such a big mess that you feel yourself swirling around the bowl."
I offered no response. Didn't even attempt to look up.
He continued, "Remember my servant Abraham?"
"Remember when he sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac?"
"How did the servant describe his own journey?"
He said, "You...'led me to the house.'" And later, "You...led me in the way of truth..." (Gen 24:27,48)
"See that word 'led?'"
"See how he followed?"
"To be led by Me is prosperity. To follow Me is blessing."
"Even if it leads to affliction?"
He nodded, "Even if."
"But Lord, we did follow You. It's what got us in this mess in the first place."
"I am not on your time schedule."
He continued, "Do I give strength to the weary?" (Is 40:29)
"Yes, they run and don't grow weary." (Is 40:31)
"Have I armed you with strength?" (Ps 18:39)
"You have trained my hands for war and my fingers for battle." (Ps 144:1)
"Have I met all your needs?" (Phil 4:19)
"I would have lost heart had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." (Ps 27:13)
"Am I your comfort?" (2 Cor 1:4)
"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." (Ps 23:5)
"Did you hear what you just said?"
I shook my head. "You just totally broke our rhythm. We were on a roll. I said one, then you said one and then You had to go and mess it up."
He laughed. "Am I your hope?"
"The anchor of my soul." (Heb 6:19)
"Your salvation?" (Is 12:2)
"And glory and power belong to you." (Rev 19:1)
"Then what's your problem?"
"Well, when You put it that way..."
"Charles, I've never 'put' it any other way."
"Okay, so I have a tendency to forget."
I felt a pat on my shoulder as He flipped through the entire Old and New Testaments. "You're in good company."
He didn't let me finish. "You trust me with your whole heart?" (Pr 3:5)
"You're my refuge and my fortress. In you I trust all the day." (Ps 91:2)
"You sure you wouldn't rather be someplace else?"
"Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere." (Ps 84:10)
"Then do it. In deed. Not just in thought." (James 1:22)
The enormity of life pressed in on me. I waved my hands across it. "You sure You got this?"
"I uphold all things by the Word of my power." (Heb 1:3)
"I am not pacing the halls of heaven popping Maalox over your situation."
I was quiet a minute. "What about my pain?"
"I know the end from the beginning. I don't make mistakes. And I will accomplish what I purpose." (Is 46:10)
I stood up, opened my arms and unloaded it on Him. "Take it."
I turned to go, but he tapped me on the shoulder. Another poke. "All of it."
I had given Him most of it, the stuff on the surface, but I'd shrouded the one thing I was holding onto. The one thing I was not about to give Him. I folded my arms. "But Lord, if I let go of that, then I can't be angry."
"Then how are those people going to get what they got coming?"
"I thought you said vengeance was mine."
"It is, but --"
"Why all of a sudden are you getting into the vengeance game?"
I mumbled something.
"What's that? I didn't hear you."
"I said, 'cause you're not moving fast enough."
"We already covered that. You really want to go back there?"
Another poke. Brush strokes appeared before my eyes and He painted a mental picture that he had painted several times. A styrofoam cup appeared. In His hand, he held a red gasoline can. "You know what happens if I pour this into that?"
"I know. I've written about that."
"Good." He set down the can. "Then you're an expert."
He poked my shrapnel again. "I'll let you keep it. I'll never take from you what you don't give Me." (Lk 15:11)
"Great. So I can rot from the inside out."
He beckoned with His hand. "I'm waiting." (Lk 15:20)
"Okay, say I do. Say I give you that, too. Other than a raw, bloody gaping hole, just WHAT am I left with?!!!"
I could hear him moving toward me. His arms wrapped around me. I felt His breath on my face. "You're left with Me." (Mt 1:23)
So I gave Him my anger. My bitterness. My unforgiveness. My right to be vindicated.
For the umpteenth time.
His voice was soft. "Let's go back to the car. The Tractor Supply parking lot. You remember?"
I did. It was tender to to me. "Yes, Lord."
"Mind if I replay the video?"
"I'd like that."
The video opened on the steam rising off my coffee. A good picture of me. I tried to pray but I couldn't get a single word out of my mouth. We sat in awkward silence until my youngest son, Rives, 11, opened his mouth and began to pray. For me. There in that car, eleven years old did what forty-five could not. And he prayed the most honest, tender, forgiving prayer I think I've ever heard. And when he openly forgave the people causing our pain, something in me broke. When he finished, John T, 15, prayed. And he did the same. Openly, verbally, by name, forgiving those who'd hurt us. Followed by Charlie, 17. And then Christy. I sat in the front seat of that car while the prayers of my wife and children stripped my anger away. Their words peeled it off in layers. In Buick-sized chunks. And there, in that naked place I began to "see" and "know" with something deeper than my pain, that the promises of God are and were true. I can't explain that. I just knew it. On a DNA level. Along with this came a desire and willingness to forgive. And trust me, that desire didn't come from me. Still doesn't.
"Yes Lord, You were in the car."
He prodded me. "But, what?"
I turned slightly in shame. "That feeling in me only lasted a few days."
"So, knowing that, I can't promise you that we won't be right back here tomorrow."
"That doesn't bother you?"
"Nothing about you bothers me." (2 Cor 5:21)
"Are we looking at the same me?"
"You're perfect." (Heb 10:14)
"But don't you get tired of this?"
"Why would I get tired of this?"
"Same stuff, different day."
"You and I have just spent the last hour and a half talking. Hanging out. With some pretty deep honesty on your part. And, you let Me take from you some stuff that wants to kill you."
"And don't you get tired of that?"
"You don't bore me. And I never tire of you." (Is 40:28)
"You have an answer for everything."
"I invented the questions." (Jn 1:1)
"I'm just telling you right now that I'll see you tomorrow."
"You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you." (Jer 29:13-14)
"Your ways are higher." (Is 55:9)
"And my love is deeper. Speaking of deep --" He poked at my wound. "How's that feeling?" (Ps 103:11-12)
No puss this time. "Better."
"You trust Me?"
I was hesitant. "Yes, I do."
"Why do you ask me questions like this if you already know what I'm thinking?
"To give you the chance to tell me the truth."
"Because it's the thing that cuts you free from the chains you hold dear." (Jn 8:32)
"Free of this would be good."
He nodded in agreement. "That all?"
I shook my head. "I will need some help continuing to trust You once we quit talking."
"I work in you both to will and to do according to My good purposes." (Phil 2:13)
"Paul said that to the Philippians."
"And now I'm saying it to you."
"What's it mean?"
"It means, I've got this. I've got you. And, I've got those you love."
"My grace is sufficient." (2 Cor 12:9)
"Even if I show up in this same crummy state?"
"My strength is made perfect in your weakness." (2 Cor 12:9)
"You already said that one."
"Wanted to make sure you were paying attention."
"What if I'm worse than today?"
"I'll give you strength for the battle. You'll run and not grow weary. You'll run through a troop. Leap over a wall." (Ps 18:9; Is 40:31; Ps 18:29)
I sat in silence while He read my thoughts and doubts -- and then answered them before I uttered an objection.
"I will go before you and level the mountains, shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars..." (Is 45:2)
"I like that one."
"The horse is prepared for the day of battle but deliverance is of the Lord." (Pr 21:31)
"That one, too."
"I tested you at the waters of Meribah." (Ps 81:7)
"Not too crazy about that one."
"If you should suffer for righteousness sake, you are blessed." (1 Peter 3:14)
"Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you for your testing as though some strange thing were happening to you...If you are reviled for My name you are blessed...If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but let him glorify God." (1 Peter 4:12, 14, 16)
I looked at Him, "We could do this all day couldn't we?"
His fingers touched my chin, turning my face toward His. "Charles, I am your Glory, a shield around you and the One who lifts up your head." (Ps 3:3)
Somewhere in there, I caught a glimpse of His face.
I started this thing with good riddance to 2014. I should be probably be careful in saying this. While I don't want to relive it, I learned a good bit. Like the Believers in Acts, we -- through many trials -- must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14) We won't always experience instant victory. God didn't promise me a life without struggle. For reasons I can't always understand His dominion does not preempt my suffering. That day is coming but it's not here yet. Despite this, He rules in the midst of His enemies. They are His footstool. I experience His victory through my battle and His triumph through my trial. That's tough for me to stomach but no less true. Daniel was thrown into a lion's den to prove his faith. His three friends into a furnace. But here, on this side of the cross, for the refining of our faith, we, at times, live in both a den and furnace. Why? I don't know. I'm a sheep and sheep are dumb but it has something to do with Faith. And because without Faith it's impossible to please Him. I am neither invulnerable nor immune to suffering and I live in the middle between the promise of suffering and the promise of deliverance. I can't explain that, but I know it's true. And in that middle place, I have a choice -- I can throw in the towel, rot from the inside out, or I can stand, hold fast, and declare -- with equal vigor -- that He is good even when my circumstances are not and even if they don't pan out the way I hope? This does not mean that I don't hope and dream and desire. It means I choose to trust Him. And therein lies the nugget. It's a choice.
I've rattled on a long time -- Probably be a good idea if I ended this thing in prayer.
Lord, I'm sorry for my whining. My complaining. Seems like I've done a lot of it here. Maybe I needed to get it off my chest. Again. I figure you're big enough to handle the messy depths of me. You were right when you said I have an enemy that has come to kill, steal and destroy. That includes my hopes and dreams. My kids hopes and dreams. But, You came to give us life to the Full. I know that. I also know that, 'Life to the full' does not mean 'it will work out the way I hope.' It might, I sincerely hope it does, but that's not the point. The point is this -- my circumstances do not dictate your nature or your love for me. Period. You speak that which is not as though it is. I need to say that again for my benefit -- My God speaks that which is not, as though it is. And, for the record -- My Redeemer lives. I know that You can do all things and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. That Your will toward me and us is good and look at what great love You have lavished on us that You would call us children of God for that is what we are. Your mercies are new every morning. And though we sow in tears, we will reap in joy. Father, You are Faithful. Holy. True. The Brightness of The Father's Glory. The exact representation of His Glory. You uphold all things by the word of Your Power. You are King of Kings. The Ruler of the Kings of this earth. Your sword is girded on Your thigh. You are The Lion of Judah. Lamb upon the Throne. You alone hold the Keys to death and Hades. You defeated everything that wants my head on a platter and when You said, "It is finished," You weren't kidding. Lord, I have complained. A lot. I have thought unkindly toward others. Been unforgiving. Bitter. Angry. I'm sorry for all that. Forgive me. Please. Really. I don't want to carry this stuff anymore. Take it. It's yours. All of it. I forgive those who have wronged me. Outright and completely. I tear up the IOU. And in obedience to Your Word, I pray for them. I bless them in the Name of Jesus. Christy and the boys and I have come through and, to a very great extent, are still in, a period of trial. Of tribulation. Of suffering. 2015 didn't all-of-a-sudden change that. I'm not saying this to poke your pity. I'm saying it in the same way David said it to you -- where else would I take it? Who else is big enough to handle this? No one. Hebrews speaks of those who heard The Word but it did not profit them because it was not united with Faith. With belief. The thought of my doing that dings me deeply. I don't want to be one of them. I want Your Word to sink deep roots in me. So in desert times, like this, I produce fruit rather than puss. So I reflect your Glory and not my junk. So your name is made known to generations. Your Word will not return void. Lord, I trust you. I trust you with today. With tomorrow. With the outcome. And what may come. Please help me to trust you. Forgive me when I don't. I can't do it on my own. You are Faithful.
In Jesus' name, Amen.